Wednesday, 22 June 2016

We Will See The Death Of The Death Penalty

Mangala Samaraweera - Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mangala Samaraweera – Minister of Foreign Affairs
Despite its widespread use, for millennia the death penalty has caused lingering societal discomfort and unease. Fairly early on in history many enlightened leaders have found the the death penalty degrading of human dignity. For example, in ancient Sri Lanka a number of kings – influenced by the Buddha’s teaching – abolished the death penalty. In fact, for much of the the first, third, fourth and thirteenth centuries the death penalty was not employed in Sri Lanka.
This may help explain why for nearly a century there has been a consensus among the legislative leadership of my country that the death penalty ought to be abolished. This consensus was based both on moral grounds and on the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. As far back as 1928 the Ceylon Legislative Assembly voted 19 to seven in favour of a resolution on abolishing the death penalty, which was moved by D.S. Senanayake, who became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon and founder of the United National Party – one of Sri Lanka’s two main political parties. In the end, abolition was only thwarted by the high-handedness of the colonial authorities of the time.
In 1956, a few years after Independence, my father, then the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, proposed a bill ending capital punishment which was supported by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister and founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – our island’s other main political party. The bill passed but tragically the death penalty was resumed a few years later as result of Mr. Bandaranaike’s assassination until a de facto moratorium was instituted in 1976.
I daresay that even today the vast majority of my colleagues in Parliament find the death penalty morally repugnant and are aware of its inefficaciousness. However, as they fear the knee-jerk reaction of uninformed public opinion they have proved unwilling to take the courageous step the Government took in 1956. I believe that this fear is true not only of legislators and jurors in Sri Lanka, but of other Asian states where the death penalty is yet to be abolished.
Therefore, the common challenge facing us today is persuading our respective people and perhaps even more importantly having the collective courage to lead by acting.
However, changing public opinion is a time consuming and resource intensive process. And the evidence points out that, despite persistent advocacy, public opinion on the subject of the death penalty is relatively static in many countries. Therefore, overcoming this key challenge requires an act of political courage. Studies have shown that when people are asked to sit in mock judgement, rather than simply answer survey questions, no more than 30 percent of people support the death penalty, even in the the most serious of cases. In France, although public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of the death penalty in 1981, its abolition decided by the then President of France led to a change of public opinion. It is clear that the debate resulting from the process of abolishing the death penalty and the lack of change in crime rates after the death penalty has been abolished allays the public’s fears. As a result there have been very, very few cases of reversal once the death penalty is abolished.
Momentum is slowly building in Asia, where more executions take place than the rest of the world combined. In South-East Asia the number of executions has declined significantly, in South Asia there have been both short and long de facto moratoria. In 2007, twenty four Asian states voted against the UN Resolution on a Death Penalty Moratorium, in 2014 that number had declined to 18. There is further good news: Sri Lanka’s Minister of Justice, who will also be addressing a session at this Conference, has informed Parliament that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional position of voting in favour of this resolution as it did in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and, more importantly, continuing the four decades long de facto moratorium.
Allow me to conclude by saying that abolishing the death penalty requires persuasion and resolve but above all it requires leadership – the collective leadership of legislators, activists, editors, academics and jurors. As momentum towards critical mass develops, I am confident that the coming years will see the death of the death penalty in our region.
Speeches made by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Mahanama Samaraweera on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. D.S. Senanayake’s speech:
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
Order for Second Reading read. 4.42 p.m.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike:

Next step.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
No, we have no such ideas. You have.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
Going to London to see the Queen.
Mr. Suntharalingam : We have seen the Queen before. It will not be the first time and certainly not the last.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
She will not like to see you again.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
Are you for this Bill or against it?

The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
Why do you want to save yourself from death like that ?
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
None of your people will join.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
He said cherchez la femme.
6.8 p.m.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :

Mr. Speaker, just a few words; I do not wish to be tempted to indulge in a rather widespread speculation which a subject of this sort quite naturally invites. I have only a few comments to make on the Bill itself. I must take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Parliamentary Secretary on the great care with which he had prepared his facts and the ability with which he delivered his speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friends who have participated in this Debate and expressed views that are generally in favour of the Bill, though there have been one or two exceptions to that general support.
It will be remembered that on more than one occasion in the legislature of this country this subject had been discussed—discussed at very great length. The last occasion on which it was discussed was only a few months before the dissolution of the previous Parliament when, on a private Member’s Motion moved by the then hon. Member for Kandy (Mr. Fred de Silva), the House by a very convincing majority accepted the view that the death penalty for the offence of murder be abolished.
On a number of previous occasions, in the State Council and so on, this matter has been discussed. It is not necessary, therefore, to go into the merits of the case for or against the abolition of the death penalty for the offence of murder. The position really is that there is a definite, a very strong body of opinion in favour of the proposal, a very large majority of the Members of this House, and I think, also members of the public, who would like to see the death penalty abolished. As a matter of fact, the First Member for Colombo Central said so. I thank him for his approval of the method by which we have proceeded in this case. We felt it was easier not to abolish completely the death sentence at this stage, but to introduce a Bill suspending the operation of the death penalty for a period of three years.
The case for the suspension is, of course, obvious as stated by the hon. First Member for Colombo Central. There are perhaps a certain number of people in this country, responsible people, who view this step with some apprehension. They feel that the abolition of the death penalty would result in an increase of murders. I personally do not think that that will, in itself, have any particular effect upon the murder rate of this country in all the circumstances that exist here. However, it is a matter that we can only test out; we can watch and see what effect it has. We have given ourselves that power by a suspension of this penalty for three years. Why three years? For the reason that any period less than that would not give sufficient time for a reasonable test. It will not be possible, let us say, in one year or so to decide with any reasonable degree of certainty whether the suspension of this penalty has had an effect one way or the other. We felt that three years was not too long a period nor too short a period for the purpose of this suspension. That is why the period of three years has been fixed.
With regard to a request made by some hon. Members—I think the hon. Member for Wellawatta-Galkissa— that the death penalty for a different class of offence, not only for offences against persons, but also for offences against the State, such as treason should also be removed, I regret to say that we are not in a position at any rate at this stage to combine these two offences, which fall into entirely different categories, for the purpose of the abolition of the death sentence. Offences against the State such as treason, waging war against the State, literally or even in a metaphorical sense, such as that contemplated by my hon. Friend the Member for Vavuniya—I cannot believe that he intends it in a literal way—are not offences that we can bring into the same category as an offence against a person. Therefore, I very much regret to say that we are not in a position, in the case of an offence of that sort, to consider, in connection with this Bill, here and now, the abolition of that possible penalty for that possible class of offence.
Now I do not wish to comment really on the speeches of my hon. Friends. Those speeches have been generally in favour of this proposal. My good old Friend, the Member for Vavuniya, got mixed up with the karmic theory, mispronounced French sayings, and so on. Well, anyhow, I can see that generally, by and large, he is not opposed to this Bill. What the karmic theory has got to do with this matter I really do not quite see clearly.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
No, but certainly the connected theory of rebirth may have something to do with it. How that theory will operate in my hon. Friend’s case I just cannot think. Then there is the advice of Sri Krishna to Arjuna in the Mahabaratha. We always like to listen to my good Friend, the Member for Vavuniya; whether it be on economics, agriculture, finance, philosophy or whatever else it is, he is always, undoubtedly, very interesting.
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friends for their general approval of this Bill. I certainly think it is worthwhile making the experiment. I can assure my hon. Friends that this has no particular reference to the Buddha Jayanthi. Certainly not; nor has this three-year period been fixed with any particular reference to that celebration. It has been fixed on its own merits. We certainly felt that in introducing this measure we were really following up the expression of views on all sides of this House on previous occasions. There is nothing new that is being introduced here for the first time. We are really giving effect to an expression of opinions by Members previously. I trust, therefore, that we will have the approval of the House for this Bill and that its working will justify the abolition of the death sentence after this period for which the operation of that particular penalty has been suspended.
I am only too well aware that there are many factors that go to the commission of an offence of murder— economic, temperamental and various other factors—and it is very difficult to divide them up. I think it will be generally admitted that the vast bulk of the murders in this country have been committed on the spur of the moment, on impulse. I think that is a general statement that is correct. Very few are these cold-blooded, well-thought out plots that have resulted in murder, except, on his own admission of the Member for Vavuniya, in the North.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike i
Well, Sir, a much better lawyer with a much clearer mind says “No,”; and I am prepared to accept the view of the hon. Member for Jaffna.
But may I say this? That whatever may be the reflection on actual murders, one solitary result will take place. I do not know whether it has been mentioned yet. But it is a fact that just as very often in our country—-

The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
It was mentioned and I repeat it. Very often our juries are reluctant to convict in cases of murder, even when the evidence is clear for conviction, through the reluctance of sending a man to his death. And therefore even if there is some effect—I do not believe there will be—of encouraging murders by the suspension of this sentence, it will be far more counterbalanced by the other deterrent, namely, of finding a greater proportion of convictions. There is also this ingredient to be borne in mind—I was not here; I am sorry I was rather busy when the Parliamentary Secretary introduced the Second Reading of the Bill—detection of murder is still rather rudimentary in this country; particularly in recent years murder by shooting has become somewhat fashionable. For instance, some villager for one of those reasons such as “ searching the plum ” or “ searching the lady ” given by my hon. Friend the Member for Vavuniya—or it may be an economic reason—has an enemy and he wants to get rid of him. So he hires a man —I think the price has now gone down—to murder that enemy. That man sees the villager sleeping in a little hut or out in the open verandah; he surveys the position, takes a gun, shoots the man and goes home.
I asked for figures recently of murders by shooting—the number has gone up suddenly—of the number of cases in which the accused were actually charged, and proprotion of cases actually brought up where acquittals took place—and the figures are most alarming.
I do not wish to create any palpitation in the bosom of my hon. Friend the Member for Kalmunai (Gate- Mudaliyar Kariapper) because I am sure, the urbane man that he is, he runs no risks in his own constituency. You see, Sir, the police have no proper methods of detection, and particularly where the poor people are concerned—unless some important person is concerned—they do not take sufficient trouble over detection, particularly in cases of murder by shooting which are now becoming alarmingly common, I am sorry to say, at least in certain parts of this country. So that the question of police detection is also valuable in reducing the incidence of this type of crime. All those matters we will consider, and we will do our best to reduce murder apart from the provisions of this Bill and the question of sentence.
I commend this Bill to the House.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
We will get rid of the hon. Member for Vavuniya for you.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
Let us conclude the Debate and take a Division.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :

I also do not wish to take much of the time of the House. We cannot agree to the inclusion of the proposed Amendment in this Bill. But the whole question which my hon. Friend the Member for Wellawatta-Galkissa has brought up in this Amendment will certainly receive our consideration because the time will come when even this Bill may have to be reconsidered.
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
Can I move with the consent of the House that we go on?
The Hon. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike :
This would not take two minutes more
Mahanama Samaraweera
Order for Second Reading read. 4.42 p.m.
Mr. Samaraweera : I move,
“That the Bill be now read a Second time.”
On the eve of the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations I feel privileged indeed to sponsor this Bill. The effect of this Bill would be that during its continuance capital punishment shall not be imposed under section 296 of the Penal Code for the commission of murder and under Section 299 of the Penal Code for the abetment of suicide, and Sections 296 and 299 of the Penal Code shall have effect as if, for the word “death” occurring in each of these sections there were substituted the words “rigorous imprisonment for life”.
This Bill is intended to be put into operation for a period of three years * but it is also provided that if the Senate and the House so declare, this Bill shall continue in force for such further period as may be specified by resolution.
The suspension or the abolition of the death penalty is a subject that has agitated the minds of responsible people in Ceylon and elsewhere for the several decades. I would like to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to a resolution moved in the year 1928 by the Hon. Mr. D. S. Senanayake as he then was. He moved,
“That in the opinion of this Council.” that is the Legislative Council.—
“Capital punishment should be abolished in Ceylon and the necessary amendment in the law should be introduced at an early date. ”

There were several speakers who spoke for and against the resolution. The main objection to the resolution at that Debate was that the resolution in the form submitted by the Hon. Mr. D. S. Senanayake while asking for the abolition of capital punishment did not place before the House an alternative to capital punishment as would be sufficient to deter the commission of these offences. It was also argued by those who were against the Motion of the Hon. Mr. D. S. Senanayake that the abolition of the death penalty would be against the British interests. Therefore, on that ground also several speakers spoke against the Motion. In the course of the Debate the Hon. Mr. D. S. Senanayake had specially mentioned to the Members that he was not going against England in this matter and the resolution was only a recommendation which would be forwarded to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. This resolution was passed by 19 votes for and 7 against it, and it was duly forwarded to the Secretary of State for the Colonies ; but in view of the feeling at that time that it would operate against imperial interests, the resolution was not implemented.
*Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s Delivers the Opening Address at the Sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty